Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday that U.S. troops could remain in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 date set by President Obama to transfer responsibility to Afghan forces.

When asked about a long-term military presence while speaking to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Gates said that a smaller number of American forces could remain. 

"Obviously it would be a small fraction of the presence that we have today, but I think we're willing to do that," Gates said, according to the Associated Press. "My sense is, they [Afghan officials] are interested in having us do that."

Afghan government officials have indeed asked for U.S. help beyond 2014, but that request could be met with opposition from the American public, which has become increasingly war-weary. 

The Afghan government and the U.S. have been working on a long-term security accord, in part because the United States seeks to keep Afghanistan, the base for the 9/11 attacks, free of terrorist activity.

But in a USA Today/Gallup poll released last month, 72 percent of the public said it wants Congress to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Members of Congress from both political parties have voiced concern over the progress of the war, which began in October 2001, but congressional efforts to mandate a strict timeline for withdrawal have been voted down.

U.S. combat troops are expected to begin drawing down this July under President Obama's revised Afghan war plan, which sent 30,000 additional American troops to the war-torn country.

Last November, Obama laid out a time frame for future U.S. involvement, saying that while troop drawdown will begin in July 2011, 2014 would be the date by which the U.S. would cede security responsibilities to the Afghan government. He did not say whether all U.S. troops would leave the country by that date.

"I'll make that determination when I get there," the president said at the time.